Life in balance

Prof Christensen
“Having a clear purpose in life is
essential for balance.

Arthur Ashe
“When I was holding the Wimbledon
Cup , I never asked God: Why me?


Robert Bosch
“I don’t pay good wages because I
have a lot of money. I have a lot of
money because I pay good wages.”


by Purnima Yogi

All of us on the planet aspire to a life in balance ”“ to balance our outgo with our income, our heads with our hearts, individual needs with societal needs. When this delicate balance is won, we hit the jackpot ”“ happiness

The middle path: modus operandi
Accept people at face value: Do not assume and presume about the motives of people. Give them the benefit of doubt, believe the best of everybody.

Do not have mindsets:

”˜42-year-old IT professional dies while jogging’, ”˜12-year-old commits suicide after corporal punishment’, ”˜Yet another honour killing in Bihar: Lovers hacked to death’ ”“ average headlines in our daily newspapers these days. On and on, the depressing news reports go. Page after page, day after day, they reflect the gruesome realities of life today. They all point to excesses in behavior and thought patterns that are wreaking havoc in today’s society. Getting stressed out at work and then at exercise. Caning a student in front of the whole class, killing oneself after being unable to bear humiliation, eliminating those who violate feudal rules, passion in the face of probable death.

What happened to good old common sense? Why is man going over the top in all walks of life? Does he not understand that there is something called moderation? A middle path, a golden mean, where there is balance of thought, word and action?

I flip the page of yet another newspaper, and come across an interesting news report. “Not too big, not too small; not too far, not too near; not too hot, not too cold”¦” What sounded like an advertisement for a weekend resort destination turned out to be the description of planet earth ”“ our permanent residence! The report made me marvel about our beloved home ”“ so innately intelligent, suspended in space at just the right distance from the sun, tilted at just the right angle on its axis, rotating and revolving at just the right speed, with the exact gravitational pull to hold us all down, with the right combination of gases and pancha bhootas in its atmosphere ”“ so perfectly balanced in all respects that it makes life possible. Even a teeny-weeny upset in this combination, and we all go for a spin. Literally!

The balance of life

Come to think of it, since eternity, how perfectly are all heavenly bodies suspended and moving in space. Just right, not colliding with each other, not wanting to occupy another’s space, all engaged serenely in a supreme, divine, cosmic dance of balance!

The whole of the cosmos understands balance ”“ why doesn’t man?

Karma is all about balance. Why doesn’t man understand this basic rule?

Look at the human body ”“ a model of balance and coordination. Its balance of hormones, acids and alkalis, salts and minerals, liquid and solid matter make man possible.

All of nature understands balance. It is built around balance and operates in balance. Why not man?

With all his intelligence, man has the power to upset earth’s ecosystem by polluting it with plastic and poisonous emissions, denuding it of forests and dumping harmful chemicals into its waters. He can alter plants and animals genetically, breed either too much or too little, kill foetuses in the womb and upset the male-female ratio on earth. He can drink too much, party too much, sleep too much, get angry too much, eat too much, work too much, exercise too much, watch too much TV and upset his health irrevocably. Or he can do the same by doing too little of all that.

Ruled by moods

Why does man go overboard in his actions and reactions, deliberately or otherwise upsetting the delicate balance of his body, mind and environment? Why can’t he understand the golden rule that action and reaction are equal and opposite. That, the more he over-does something, the more severe will the consequences be?

Psychologists say that a human being is a bundle of feelings and emotions. At any point in time, most of us are wont to feel one of the three basic states of being ”“ unpleasant, neutral or pleasant. More often than not, though, we battle with the feeling of unpleasantness, which we want to replace as fast as possible with feeling pleasant. In the bargain, we swing between one extreme and the other, totally bypassing the stable, central feeling of neutrality.

The incredible grace of balance The middle path

It is obvious that our state of stability is completely dependent on the state of our mind ”“ it rules our very existence. Take care to not upset the mind and everything else falls in place. But how not to upset the mind?

World Tennis Champion of the 1970s, Arthur Ashe, was diagnosed with AIDS. A devastated fan wrote to him, wondering why God had chosen to visit a bad disease like AIDS on such a fine man. Ashe replied: “50 million children around the world start playing tennis. Five million learn to play tennis. 500,000 learn professional tennis. 50,000 come to the circuit. 5,000 reach The Grand Slam. 50 reach Wimbledon. Eight reach the quarterfinals, four make it to semifinals, two to the finals. When I was holding the Wimbledon Cup, I never asked God: Why me? So why now, in pain, should I be asking Him: Why me?”

What a great perspective to retain in the face of grave adversity! Such a person is described as a sthithprajna ”“ a man with a steady mind ”“ by Lord Krishna in the Bhagavadgita. Sukhe-dukhe same krutvaa labhaalaabhau jayaajayau. A sthithapragna is one who is undisturbed in happiness and misery, in gain and loss, and in victory and defeat. Buddha calls this attitude the middle path.

Before he became enlightened, the Buddha too experienced extremes states. Born a prince, he experienced opulence, and found it to be unbearable in the light of all the suffering he saw in the world. Then he renounced all and became an ascetic, indulging in severe penance and austerity for six years. He also struggled to reconcile the Vedantic teachings of eternalism ”“ ”˜everything exists’ and annihilationism ”“”˜nothing exists’. Siddhartha Gautama discovered that neither took him to nirvana, and realised that salvation lay in following the majjhimã paipadã or the middle path.

To be in the middle is to be centred, neutral, unbiased, fair and upright, therefore avoiding extremes in thought and behavior. Coming from this space, one can investigate all issues and problems in life objectively, understand the truth thoroughly, come to a reasonable conclusion and act appropriately. Buddha says that the Self is neither permanent, nor does it cease to exist at death. No situation is permanent ”“ it comes and goes like a wave. If one experiences headache, he will eventually experience a state of non-headache too. Buddha called this impermanence anicca, and said that this knowledge would keep man from error and suffering. The master supplemented his teaching by offering the noble eight-fold path for practical living, which includes guidelines for wisdom (right understanding, right intent), ethical conduct (right speech, right action, right livelihood), and meditation (right effort, right mindfulness, right concentration).

Arthur Ashe
“When I was holding the Wimbledon
Cup, I never asked God: Why me?


Uncertainty is the nature of life, not just business. Acceptance, then, is the critical attitude one has to develop in order to come to grips with life. Once the mind accepts an uncomfortable situation, it can go to the next step of finding the optimum solution to overcome it; if there is no solution in sight, it will wait patiently until the problem blows over. A spiritually inclined person would attribute it to karma, a religious person to God’s will, a positive thinker would survive by telling himself that bad times don’t last and good times are round the corner. Belief in a higher power, belief in tomorrow or confidence in oneself ”“ all work wonderfully in keeping the spirit upbeat at all times.

Often acceptance is mistaken for passiveness, which is as far from the truth as can be. Once, two women, both practicing Buddhists, were riding in an autorickshaw when they were attacked by the driver on an empty stretch. They managed to escape with minimum damage, but were shaken to the core by the experience. Later that day, they asked their teacher what they should have done ”“ what would have been the appropriate, Buddhist response. The teacher said very simply, “You should have very mindfully and with great compassion whacked the attacker over the head with your umbrella.”

Positive thinking is often mistaken for denial, which again, is as far as the truth as can be. While a positive attitude comes after acceptance, denial is the defence mechanism of an immature mind that is unable to cope with uncomfortable reality. Denial is not accepting that the sun sets. Positive thinking is to be secure in the knowledge that it will rise again the next day. While waiting for the morning, to also accept the dark night that comes before sunrise is equanimity.

A bottomless pit

Prof Christensen
“Having a clear purpose in life is
essential for balance.


I remind myself of the purpose of my life everyday.” As the Buddha put it, desire is the root cause of misery, plain and simple. To admire without desiring is the secret of happiness, but the present-day marketing strategy of buy-one-get-one-free does not allow us to consider that option!

Famous American industrialist and philanthropist, Warren Buffett, is as known for his billions as he is for his simplicity. In a recent interview with BBC, Buffett shared his utterly down-to-earth success fundas:

Ӣ Stay away from credit cards and invest in yourself

”¢ Money doesn’t create man, man creates money

Ӣ Live a simple life

”¢ Don’t do what others say. Do what you feel is good

”¢ Don’t go for brand names. Just wear clothes in which you feel comfortable

”¢ Don’t waste your money on unnecessary things. Spend it on one who is really in need

Ӣ The happiest people do not necessarily have the best of all. They simply appreciate what they find on their way

If we can learn to differentiate between need and greed, we can really enjoy window shopping by not wanting to possess whatever’s inside it!

Listen to your body

The human body is a wonderful tool to keep our balance, if only we listen to it. All our organs send us signals when their working is upset by our harmful behavior and thought patterns. If we don’t take corrective measures, they stall. Louise Hay’s Heal Your Body is a wonderful documentation of this truth.

Ancient cultures have always advocated following the golden mean in eating and in everything else. My grandfather, an ayurved pandit, lived up to 86, like many of his generation. He suffered no serious health issues for he lived by the simple principle of eating healthy ”“ Hita Bhuk, Mita Bhuk, Samyak Bhuk ”“ eat meals that are mild, just enough, and timely. An attitude echoed by President Obama, who says, ”˜I sit down to eat when I am hungry and I get up when I am still hungry’.

Given man’s propensity to flout this rule, a self-correcting system has been built in by most traditions by earmarking times in the year for fasting like Ramzan, Lent and Ekadashi. An unusually large number of people of Okinawa in Japan live up to more than 100 years, much beyond the average life expectancy anywhere in the world. Their diet follows a concept called Hara Hachi Bu which means ”˜eat only until 80 per cent full’! Their diet mainly consists of vegetables, whole grains, fruits, a bit of fish and very little of meat. Hara Hachi Bu was proven to be a success, until, last heard, a McDonald’s outlet was inaugurated there recently!

Clarity of purpose

Acclaimed Harvard Professor, Clayton M Christensen, says that having a clear purpose in life is essential for balance. In his address to the class of 2010 of Harvard Business School (HBS), Christensen says that he is amazed to see more and more of his classmates coming to reunions unhappy, divorced, and alienated from their children. The reason is that they have no clear idea of the purpose of their lives, and therefore do not know how to spend their time, talents, and energy. People tend to allocate these resources for endeavours that offer immediate gratification, like wealth and prestige, rather than to things that matter the most like family, relationships and contentment. The professor says that he reminds himself of the purpose of his life every day. This, he says, has helped him balance work and life beautifully.

Once clarity of purpose is achieved, it is also critical to hold on to it. Come New Year, and I display great clarity of purpose. I religiously make a list of dos and don’ts that I fully intend to implement; one of them not to skip an exercising session, starting that evening. Come evening, and a friend excitedly calls to say she has been blessed with extra tickets for the latest Bollywood blockbuster featuring my favourite star, and my first New Year resolution falls by the wayside.

Robert Bosch
“I don’t pay good wages because I
have a lot of money. I have a lot of
money because I pay good wages.”


Moderate goals

While having a purpose, ”˜have a big vision but a small goal’. It’s all very well to have Bill Gates as a role model, but to get frustrated if one can’t be him is sheer stupidity. The circumstances for Gates to become what he is might be far removed from our own. Go slow at first to go fast!

The principle of reciprocity

Life works on the principle of reciprocity. The only way to receive something is to give it first, whether in relationships or money. Estranged couples fighting over alimony and child custody could use this attitude. Money too, comes to one who doesn’t hoard it, for like water, money needs to flow. Even the legend on a ` 100 currency notes says ”˜I promise to pay the bearer a sum of Rupees One Hundred’. A wonderful message that reminds us that the money in our wallet does not belong to us!

“I don’t pay good wages because I have a lot of money, I have a lot of money because I pay good wages,” said Robert Bosch, founder of the Bosch Group. All cultures lay great stress on charity and the idea of give and take too is built into tradition, with the practice of families and friends gathering during festivals and celebrations and exchanging gifts. It breaks down ego barriers, discourages hoarding and encourages spending to keep the economy flowing and market booming. Every purchase we make during festivals sustains the livelihood of people in the supply chain. But money doesn’t stay with spendthrifts either, for a fool and his money are soon parted.

Three gunas, three cravings

Depending on their nature, all six-and-a-half billion people of the world fall into one of the three categories of tamas, rajas and sattva. Tamasic people have base instincts, are overly sense-oriented and prone to inertia. Rajasic people are dynamic, go-getters, restless. Sattvic people have soft, finer feelings, more interested in the workings of the inner world than the outer. All of us are a combination of all three. But even if one of them is highly developed or suppressed, we lose balance and perspective. For example, we cannot do without sleep, but sloth is tamasic. Meditation is sattvic, but a certain amount of rajas is required to propel oneself towards that activity. Once we actively sit for meditation, to fidget and get distracted is rajasic. Being too soft in the outer world is also dangerous, as discovered by the sattvic snake who forgot to hiss and got beaten up in the bargain.

With an immoderate lifestyle, man can upset the balance of seven spiritual centres or chakras, which will reflect in his aura. The aura is nothing but a pulsating energy consisting of bio-rhythmic, biochemical and bio-electrical vibrations of our body and mind. These can be regulated respectively with pranayama and meditation, eating clean, pure and soft food, and dropping negative thoughts and cultivating good thoughts.

But “”¦how do you define moderate?” demands my friend Sahana, a single woman who likes to indulge in the extra masala dosa once in a while, party late into the night and lie around in bed until noon on Sundays. “What is moderate for me might mean self-indulgence to you. What you call moderate looks like austerity to me!”


A legitimate dilemma, for which Nisargadatta Maharaj has the answer: “Once you have gone through an (unpleasant) experience, not to go through it again is austerity. To eschew the unnecessary is austerity. Not to anticipate pleasure or pain is austerity. Having things under control all the time is austerity. Both indulgence and austerity have the same purpose in view ”“ to make you happy. Indulgence is the stupid way, austerity is the wise way”.

Pride goeth before the fall

All excesses committed by humans are due to bloated egos. The bigger the ego, the harder it is to train the mind towards moderation. Once, the Vindhya mountain range, situated between the Kerala and Tamilnadu border, felt that it was no lesser than the Himalayas, and decided to grow taller. Anticipating the imbalance on earth if this were allowed, Lord Shiva immediately dispatched Sage Agastya to arrest this phenomenon. The sage duly set down south and reached the Vindhyas. “Oh, mighty mountain,” he addressed, “I am only four feet tall. My short legs cannot carry me across your great height. Will you please oblige me and lower your level so that I can cross over? You may start growing again after I cross you on my way back.” Sage Agastya was a very revered and feared personality, so Vindhya agreed and assumed its original height. The sage crossed over, and settled down on the other side permanently (in a forest in Theni district)! The Vindhya awaits the sage’s return to this day and the Himalayas continue to retain its supremacy as intended by nature!

If the ego is allowed to grow immoderately, it is bound to upset the balance in man and society. Why are nations and religious groups at war? Why do terrorist groups keep proliferating? Why are criminals getting bolder and elected governments falling before they complete their full term? All because of inflated egos. When the imbalance becomes intolerable, nature will find drastic ways of bringing back the balance. As the Lord says ”“ Yada yadahi dharmasya glanirbhavati Bharata”¦..sambhavami yuge yuge: ”˜Whenever adharma is on the rise and dharma on the decline, I shall return to set the balance right’.

Sooner rather than later, surely, dear Lord!

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